Monday, September 21, 2009

OECD New Millennium Learners' Conference

It is a refreshing change to be at a conference focused on the impact of digital technologies on education that is grounded in evidence rather than hype and speculation. As background reading for the conference, which started today (Sept. 21) and runs until Sept. 23, the OECD organizers released a number of reports based on the research being conducted by the Centre for Educational Research & Innovation (CERI) New Millennium Learner Project. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the OECD findings are consistent with the findings of our research. They clearly support the view that this is a much more complex issue than is portrayed by the futurists and pundits and that few of their major claims are supported by research.

What became apparent, though, as I prepared for my participation in a panel discussion on needs and opportunities for new millennium learners is that there are two related but quite distinct discourses around the digital learner. The one that takes centre stage in North America and which I have been most critical of because there no solid research to back it up, is the Net Generation discourse. It suggests, among other things, that the net generation has learned a new set of sophisticated technology skills by merely being exposed to the technologies since birth. The implication is that we don't need to teach this generation how to use the technology to make sense of the overwhelming and increasing amount of information available to us. In fact, we are told, they can teach older generations how to use the technology. The second discourse is the 21st Century Skills discourse that informs this conference. It argues that the digital, networked technologies have changed the nature of the world and work. Work is increasingly knowledge-based, and the technologies are making increasing and vast amounts of information instantly available to us. To cope with these fundamental changes, it is argued, we need new skills of information and knowledge management using ICTs. It is not enough to know how to send text messages, use word processing tools, post to blogs, use Facebook etc. We all need to be able to to use these technologies to locate, analyze, evaluate and synthesize information that is relevant to our lives and work. Clearly, this is a fundamentally different perspective than the one put forward in the net generation discourse and it is supported by some excellent research that has been undertaken by OECD CERI.

To read two contrasting perspectives on the 21st Century Skills discourse read An Operating System for the Mind and the position put forward by the Common Core group.


Anonymous said...

The 21st Century Skills position (as I've seen it discussed in the blogosphere anyhow) is similar to one presented by the New London Group (James Gee and co.) back in 1998. The latter is positioned in a broader sociocultural discussion of multiliteracies. I think this is useful because it steps outside of technological discussions which seem to always lead to emphasis on technical/social media skills as solutions to the problem vs. the broader educational problems.

Tom Worthington said...

Net Gen Skeptic wrote September 21, 2009:

>... refreshing change to be at a conference focused on the impact of digital technologies on education that is grounded in evidence ...

Yes, I designed and have been delivering a course for Masters students at the Australian National University using the latest e-learning techniques. But much of this is just adoption of traditional communication and learning techniques to a new environment.

I find I still have to teach the students about the basics of how to compose a good answer to an e-tutorial question and about how to reply to comment on the online forum.

The topic of the course is Green ICT Strategies (sustainable computing) but we spend a lot of the course on the basics of professional communication.

Previously I have trained public servants in e-literacy and believe there is a need for basic training in how to use the web and Internet for professional communication. Currently I am working up a proposal for a course to teach e-literacy to professionals.